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Erika Siegel, Michael Geuss, Jeanine Stefanucci; Studying the relationship between emotion and height perception in naturalistic settings. Journal of Vision 2008;8(6):757. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/8.6.757.
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This study analyzed the relationship between emotion and the perception of heights, in naturalistic settings, where participants would experience more fear and anxiety than could be evoked in the laboratory. Previous research has shown that people overestimate height more from the top than the bottom, especially when they are afraid of heights (Stefanucci & Proffitt, 2007). Participants in this study were 19 college students enrolled in an outdoor adventure course (experiment group) and 20 college students not enrolled in the class (control group). At various points in the semester, participants in the experiment group flew across a lake on a zip line and rappelled off of a four- story parking garage while secured by a harness. The procedure for the experiment and control group was matched except that participants in the experiment group actually jumped from the heights. Participants in both groups completed surveys before exposure to the height about their current emotions and their fear and anxiety about heights. On site, during exposure to the height, participants in both conditions completed a height matching task where they positioned an experimenter to be the same ground distance from them as they were from the height they were viewing. Participants in both conditions viewed a height from the top and the bottom. Participants also completed the Subjective Units of Distress Scale to assess their on-site excitement and fear. After the participants were exposed to the height, they again completed surveys about their memory for emotions during exposure, and their current emotions about heights. We found large differences in the fear experienced at the height in the experiment versus control groups and perceptual estimates were slightly higher in the experiment group. This study, when combined with earlier laboratory research, bolsters our understanding of the relationship between emotion and the perception of heights.
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